A Sacred Place
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:4-10
Each of our Scriptures are written for people living in the midst of trying times and they all, in their own way, speak about a sacred place…a place where the holy and the human encounter. The Psalmist in a time of crisis and danger, is consumed by fear despair and grief. He pours out to God the pain, the fear, the sense of being trapped. He laments what life is like for him at the moment. Yet, even in the midst of that pain, the psalmist is able to imagine, or maybe it is to remember. Whichever, he is able to connect with, catch a glimpse of a place of refuge, a place of safety and security in God, in realizing that his life and times are in Godâ€™s hands, A powerful portrait of that gut-wrenching experience of finding sacred place in the midst of suffering and anguish.
The gospel of John and our reading from 1st Peter are both written to the early church, Christians living in difficult times, wondering what their place was in a dominant Roman Empire. We get the author of Johnâ€™s take on Jesus as he writes the farewell Jesus gives to his disciples, No doubt he is imagining how these frightened, displaced, early Christians living in small minority communities would hear it as well.
(There are at least two cautions in this reading, Iâ€™d like to address right away. One is Johnâ€™s exclusive use of Father as an image of God. For me to hear this passage, I have to believe it signifies intimacy rather than exclusive gender for God.
Another very challenging statement, â€œNo one comes to the Father except by meâ€ has been used by fundamentalists to justify Christian exclusivity. Again, I canâ€™t accept that. It may be that the early church believed that, but it is more likely that they were saying that Jesus points the way to intimate relationship with God. It is important that we challenge scripture, even as it challenges us, and peel off layers of traditional hearing and interpretation that make it hard for us to hear.)
In saying farewell to his followers, Jesus wants to prepare them for what is to come; some bad times. He wants to offer them hope to live by. If you knew you were going to die, and were writing a farewell to those beloved who would remainâ€¦what might you say? Thereâ€™s a fascinating video on YouTube of a young American professor named Randy Pausch who has just months to live. He gave a last lecture to his students in which he offers words of comfort and wisdom about what is important just as Jesus did. It has been downloaded more than a million times on the internet.
An interesting question: What would you say if you were writing a farewell for those who would live on? How would you comfort them? What wisdom would you like them to hear from you?
No doubt youâ€™d want to speak to their anxiety and fear as did Jesus. Jesus acknowledges that they had troubled hearts. â€œDo not let your hearts be troubled:â€ he says. The gospel writer also shows a troubled Jesus, Itâ€™s mentioned at least 3 times just before this reading that Jesus is troubled, And so he speaks with empathy and compassion.
He tells them not to dwell on the trouble, or in it, but to trust in God in life and in death. Then he wants them to know what is most important to him. He speaks of sacred place for himâ€¦.his unity, his deep connection with the Sourceâ€¦and invites them into that unity, into that deep connection with the Source as the way that leads to life.
The metaphor of many dwelling places has sometimes been taken literally, golden mansions in the sky, but I think it has more to do with promise of sacred place; place where we can feel like the psalmist that our life and times are in Godâ€™s hand even as we face into death,
The â€œI amâ€ statements are part of a series in John which offer lenses into how the early church saw Jesus. The author is making strong connection with the name of God given at the burning bush. When Moses asks, who shall I say has sent me, the name given was JHWH â€œI am who I am, I will be who I will be, I am beingness becomingâ€ Try to lock that in a box!!!!!â€¦â€¦These â€œI amâ€ statements suggest the writer sees strong ties between Jesus and God. They also point to ways the community experienced Jesus revealing Godâ€™s way. I am the bread of life, the light of the world, the good shepherd, and today The Way the Truth and the Life. Each can stand as separate assertions about who Jesus is, but they can also be translated in other ways–e.g. Jesus is the way and truth that lead to life, Jesus is the way that leads to truth and life, Jesus is the true way of life. There is sacred place says Jesus in this intimacy with God, in this profound trust in God even in times of grief, and loss, and fear and uncertainty. It is clear that the way of Jesus is to be a path of transformation and truth that is life-giving.
The author of 1st Peter, is writing earlier than the gospel writer of John, but also to small, isolated, scattered minority communities in Asia Minor in times of persecution. They felt very much overpowered by the Roman Empire, which had a whole different set of values about life and how to live it. The author reminds of the sacred place of being community of spirit. He calls these small scattered communities, who thought they had no power, to become a house of living stones, centred on Christ as cornerstone. They were to remember that they are spiritual community; the ecclesia-those called out. Their allegiance was not to the values of their culture. They were called out to build a new kind of house, much more than a building, — a spiritual community where God is present in the very livingness of the people in community. A sacred place where the way of Jesus is lived.
In that culture, the corner stone is the first laid stone which sets the pattern for all the rest. It determines if the walls will be straight or crooked. It orients the other stones and provides the guidelines for where they are to be. It sets the shape and design of the house. Without a cornerstone, there could be no house. It is the basis of all future building. Yet when the house is finished it is underneath a lot of other stones-sometimes not even recognizable.
The author of Peterâ€™s letter suggests that Jesus, the cornerstone of this new building is sometimes not only unrecognizable. He is a stone for people to trip over; a stone rejected by the builders of the society of his day- the political and religious leaders. Jesus was crucified as a revolutionary by the Roman political and military machinery and the priestly council of the day.
Those who could see through the eyes of the Spirit saw beyond his execution. They saw his life as foundational- life lived in a balance of communion with God and the life of love poured out for others; a radical life given over to announcing and embodying the kingdom of God right in the midst of life. A life not afraid to speak out, to go beyond the rules when God values demanded. A life in whom the livingness of God was transparent. If the church really took Christâ€™s life as foundational, as the kids say, we’d be awesome!
Peter tells them that they were to remember that they are not isolated individual rocks, but part of a living temple of God. An image of a house of living stones….stones that are not rigid or fixed or imovable….This is sacred placeâ€¦a community of people alive in the Spirit.
And so some questions: Where do you find sacred place? Where is there spiritual aliveness in me, and how do I connect that aliveness with others in community? Do I feel like a living stone in whom God dwells; a part of a spiritual temple? How am I part of building Godâ€™s kingdom in the place where I am. And a really hard one..Are we prepared to be fitted into a house built by Christ or would we rather build the house on our own terms?
As we will be visioning our future in a few weeks on May 3, we might want to ask ourselves, What kind of house of living stones would God want to create in Cedar Park at this point in our lives?